The Isle of Wight Society

November 2023

Ghost signs and watery memorials

Last month I wrote about the delightful tiled doorways to shop fronts in Newport.  These signs could be termed ghost signs, as they represent shop names that are no longer trading. Tiles however have a longer life than paint.

Historic England are asking people to submit “Ghost Signs”.  Typically these are painted signs on walls, such as the “Coal Wharf” sign in Newport, or the Exide Batteries sign above the old Bruce’s shop in Clarence Road, East Cowes.  Many are now faded, since the reason for them being there has ceased to exist.   They are part of our Heritage and should be recorded for posterity.  Google “Historic England Ghost Signs” to see more Island ghost signs.  Can you add more local photographs of ghost signs to their map?

Coal Wharf ghost sign, Newport

Exide batteries, East Cowes

We have had a surplus of water recently.  But imagine a time when you had no piped running water and your only supply was from a well, or catching the water from your roof.  Only wealthy people had their own well in Victorian times.  Ordinary people would have to rely on the town well.  In low lying areas, this could become contaminated with sewage or seawater, or both if you were by the coast.  In East Cowes in 1856 this happened frequently.

People start queuing at haul up their water from the public well in East Cowes.  There was no winding mechanism. You just dropped the bucket down on a rope and hauled it up.  We still have the name, Well Road.  The stone lined well was revealed, briefly, about thirty years ago during building work.

Other places were luckier.  At Calbourne and Newtown, winding pumps were provided in around 1894.  That at Calbourne now has a roof over it.  In Brading there is a small hand pump dated 1764.  In Whitwell sixteen cast iron water pumps were provided throughout the village by a local benefactor.

If you wanted to be remembered, inscribed drinking fountains for people, or animals, were seen as a good idea.

Drinking fountain, Newport Quay

On Newport Quay, the Sir Barrington Simeon drinking fountain, made of polished red granite, was restored a few years ago.  On the road out of Newport to Carisbrooke there is a horse trough, made of grey granite.  It matches another, by the Sun Inn at Calbourne.  Both remember Sir Barrington Simeon who died in 1909.

Troughs, top Road to Carisbrooke, below, Calbourne.

In East Cowes, a steel drinking fountain was provided by Miss Shedden in memory of her parents.  First placed at a road junction, it was moved to the recreation ground.  Now it is on the Esplanade.

Shedden Fountain

The well house at Carisbrooke Castle dates from 1587. Once prisoners or miscreants would have the job of working the treadmill, winding up water from far below.  

Gould, Hibberd and Randall, the soft drinks manufacturers, used the donkey well as their business logo.  Now this terracotta sign is on Marks and Spencers  – another old business sign that has survived.  How many more “ghost signs” have we on the Island?

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Isle of Wight Society
East Cowes Heritage Centre, 8 Clarence Road
East Cowes, PO32 6EP

Tel: +44 (0) 1983 280310

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